So, yes, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is based on a true story, in that Ma Rainey was a real person, but most of the actual plot is fictional. But while Rainey earned a good amount of money, it wasn’t nearly the amount that she deserved. And this type of subterfuge was common at Rainey’s label Paramount, despite the fact that it was largely operated by a Black producer, J. Mayo Williams. Is The White Tiger based on a true story? Although Viola worried she wouldn't be able to sing well enough to play the iconic "Mother of Blues," after reading the script she knew she had to get involved. The legendary singer was born Gertrude Pridgett on April 26, 1886. Please try again later. Williams was known to be just as cutthroat as his white counterparts: he would later say that he subscribed to the industry maxim “screw the artist before he screws you,” and that nine out of 10 Paramount artists received no royalties regardless of their record sales. In his play, August made sure to celebrate Ma's sexuality (including her rumored relationships with her female dancers and with Bessie Smith) with the inclusion of the fictional character Dussie Mae, portrayed by Taylour Paige in the Netflix movie. Based on the true story of a legendary, but historically underappreciated blues singer, we spend most of the film in two rooms, as Ma … In 1925, she was arrested for throwing an “indecent” and “intimate” party with a group of young women, forcing Bessie Smith—a possible lover of hers—to bail her out. “I used to dream of joining Ma Rainey’s band because she treated her musicians so wonderfully, and she always bought them an instrument,” the jazz icon Lionel Hampton is quoted as saying in Chris Albertson’s biography of Bessie Smith, Bessie. In it, Viola Davis plays Rainey with both regal composure and pitch-black fury over the course of a sweltering afternoon recording session in 1927, as she fights for respect and artistic autonomy. All Rights Reserved. So, the main question - is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom a true story? In 1904, she married comedian, dancer, and singer Will Rainey; together they toured the South with a variety of minstrel groups, billing themselves as Ma and Pa Rainey. And he humanizes us. Ma was still performing in the early 1930s, but after officially quitting show business in 1935, she returned to Columbus, Georgia to run two entertainment venues and participate in church activities. While other blues singers of the day, like Bessie Smith and Mamie Smith, largely sang songs written by others, Rainey penned at least one third of the songs she recorded. All the characters in the story are struggling in one way or another — even the famous Ma Rainey — and the story suggests that interpersonal conflict is a symptom of greater social issues. We may earn commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products we back. While very few public performers were fully out of the closet, Rainey didn’t try very hard to hide her bisexuality. To depict the Black experience throughout the 20th century, August penned a play for each decade — Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was set in the 1920s, The Piano Lesson was in the '30s, and Fences (both Denzel and Viola starred in the 2016 film version of the play) was in the '50s. Ma is also credited for breaking new ground through the narratives told in her songs, as several of the tunes feature strong feminist elements in the lyrics, as Angela Davis noted in Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. As race records flourished in the 1920s, record companies scrambled to sign Black artists while undermining them and exploiting them at every step. Viola Davis stars as the blues pioneer and queer icon in the film adaptation of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. “They must’ve been women, ‘cause I don’t like no men. We Need Monthly Stimulus Checks Until the Pandemic Is Over. Together, they created a double act known as … Could Amsterdam's New Economic Theory Replace Capitalism? You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site. Born Gertrude Pridgett in Columbus, Georgia in 1886, Ma Rainey was one of the first African-American professional blues singers, and for a long time after her death she was largely … She was with her first husband, Will Rainey, for at least 10 years before separating, according … In 1923, Ma became one of the first Black artists signed to Paramount, and she made her first of roughly 100 recordings. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io, The Sad Backstory Behind Disney+'s 'WandaVision'. “Her sexual braggadocio, popular in men’s blues songs, helped to create her legend as both fearless and sexually independent,” Mack says. Yes, it is. Good Housekeeping participates in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may get paid commissions on editorially chosen products purchased through our links to retailer sites. Many of those, like “Moonshine Blues” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” would become standards of the genre to be covered time and again. Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. I'm really excited about that," he told The Hollywood Reporter. And it would likewise inspire imitators for generations to come. But Rainey’s impact on music, fashion and myth-making still lingers. The real Rainey would be out of a job just a year later: classic blues was fading in popularity in favor of swing jazz, and the advent of talking pictures had dented the centrality of live performances. "We're going to do one a year for the next nine years. For instance, the song Ma is seen recording with her band, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," was an actual number written in response to the 1920s dance craze known as the black bottom, which originated in the Southern Black community (and was reportedly named after a predominantly Black neighborhood in Detroit). In 2004, her hit "See See Rider" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. Even … If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission. The following story contains spoilers from the movie “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” now streaming on Netflix. A few years later, she would release “Prove It On Me Blues,” considered one of the earliest odes to lesbianism on record: “Went out last night with a crowd of my friends,” she sang. It’s not hard to draw a line between that impulse and dominant themes running through hip-hop today. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our. That style is now known as “classic blues”—but at the time, it was a unique and radical hybrid of several American forms, and Rainey was pivotal in creating and popularizing it. This approach captured the imagination of many Black Americans at a transformative moment in which, thanks to the Great Migration, the longstanding divides between North and South, rural and urban, antique and modern were becoming eroded or blurred. Please attempt to sign up again. Inside Viola Davis's Marriage to Julius Tennon, This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. Rainey was born in the 1880s in Columbus, Ga.; she performed on the vaudeville circuit for many years across the South, inheriting some performative traditions from minstrelsy and honing her outsize stage presence and comic timing. Onstage, she wore satin gowns and diamond tiaras; a necklace of gold coins often hung from her neck. The stage name “Ma Rainey” would come in the aftermath of her 1904 marriage to Will Rainey, a comedian and singer. Per Robert Springer's "Folklore, Commercialism and Exploitation: Copyright in the Blues" and History.com, it was common practice for white-owned record labels to get Black artists to sign away their recording rights (and then have white artists release covers of their songs), underpay Black artists, and make it difficult for Black artists to receive the royalties they earned. Her legacy as an LGBTQ pioneer also continues to be celebrated. All of the events that unfold in the Netflix movie — which shows a day in the life of Ma Rainey and her band — did not actually happen quite as depicted. Is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Based on a True Story? So Rainey began to incorporate blues songs and structures into performances, helping to pioneer a genre that would both entertain crowds while also speaking candidly about Black life in America. Kayla Keegan covers all things in the entertainment, pop culture, and celebrity space for Good Housekeeping. Her shows were also some of the earliest integrated shows to take place in the Jim Crow South, according to Lieb. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images. ', Kevin Costner Shared A New Photo For His Birthday, Watch Steve Harvey Completely Lose It on 'Feud'. Like Viola, the real Ma Rainey was an incredibly gifted performer. Postal Service commemorative stamp in 1994. Angela Davis, in her 2011 book Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, wrote that Rainey’s songs are full of women who “explicitly celebrate their right to conduct themselves as expansively and even as undesirably as men.” They wield pistols, carouse until the morning, dodge the police, and sleep around for revenge. According to a New York Times obituary published in 2019 for its "Overlooked" series highlighting luminaries whose deaths went unreported in the paper, Ma was the first entertainer to "bridge the divide" between vaudeville and "authentic Black Southern folk expression." Soon after, in 1904, Ma married her husband, William "Pa" Rainey. It doesn't get any better than that. Ma Rainey 's Black Bottom takes place during one day in the blues singer's storied life. “Have you ever been drunk, slept in all your clothes? Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix ends—as many films based on a true story tend to—with a photo montage of the real-life characters depicted on screen. Sadly, just years after her retirement began, Ma died of a heart attack on December 22, 1939. While the protagonist is based totally on the very actual African-American blues singer Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, the script itself used to be no longer stimulated through proper events. The exploitation of Black artists was widely prominent at the time of Ma's popularity. No, ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ is no longer based totally on a real story. That said, there are some real historical elements highlighted in the play. But Ma Rainey also follows the virtuoso trumpet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman) as he clashes with Ma and her producer, Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne). Ma was born Gertrude Pridgett in the South under Jim Crow laws to her mother, Ella, and father, Thomas. Long before bling was in vogue (or even a word), Rainey traveled with four trunks full of accessories which included ostrich plumes, sequins and jewelry. And he allows us to talk.". But her overlooked legacy is being revisited thanks to the release of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a film adaptation of August Wilson’s acclaimed 1982 play that arrived on Netflix on Friday. Rainey had a perfect voice for her new brand of music: low and gravelly, filled with both raw pathos and brassy authority. Most recently, in 2017, the Rainey McCullers School of Arts in Columbus, Georgia was named after both Ma and novelist Carson McCullers. In an era dominated by white Tin Pan Alley composers, Rainey imbued her songs with the depth and diversity of her own experiences as well those of other Black women, portraying anguish, rage, euphoria, love, sexual desire and much more. Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (born Gertrude Pridgett, 1882 or 1886 – December 22, 1939) was one of the earliest African-American professional blues singers and one of the first generation of blues singers to record. However, it’s based on the 2008 Booker Prize-winning fiction novel of the same name by Aravind Adiga. The stories highlighted in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom are also based on the real experiences of Black Americans in the early 20th century. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" is a new Netflix film inspired by the true-life story of the blues legend. While this contrast may have rung true in the late ‘20s, it was Rainey who was pioneering a new sound just a few years earlier. Around the same time, Sandra R. Lieb published a book about Ma's life titled Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey. "I think that [August] captures our humor as Black people," she told CBS News. This is what you need to know about the real Ma Rainey before (or after) watching. "That they put it in my hands, the estate, and trust me. Is McGee Really Leaving 'NCIS' This Year? The subject of Oscar-tipped Netflix drama Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was a pioneering queer black singer who battled white producers for control Last modified on … When looking at the new Netflix drama Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, one may come to the conclusion that the film is based on a true story.After all, the movie’s lead character — blues singer Ma Rainey — was a real person. Executives coerced blues singers—especially those who had no experience in the recording industry—to sign away future royalties or even ownership of their songs, leaving many artists destitute after the peak of their popularity. In 1935, she pivoted to another kind of leadership when she bought two movie halls: the Lyric and Airdome theaters, in Columbus Ga. She managed them until her death four years later. But despite its real-life protagonist, the film’s plot is actually a work of fiction. Here are the ways in which Rainey was ahead of her time. You can unsubscribe at any time. The George C. Wolfe-helmed film takes plenty of liberties with the August Wilson play it's based on, which in and of itself took creative license with the blues musician's life. While Ma Rainey was very much a real blues trailblazer with an unforgettable persona, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom isn't actually based on a true story. Ma Rainey influenced future legends like Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith, but it was her own struggle to remain true to herself as a Black artist during the early 20 th century that became the inspiration for Pulitzer Prize-winner August Wilson’s play, the first of his works to be performed on Broadway With the Black Bottom story, viewers can get some interesting details about her life and her rise to fame. Her ability to negotiate sizable contracts, combined with her generosity, made her a beloved bandleader among musicians. Thanks to her showmanship, songwriting and powerful voice, Rainey earned a reputation as one of the most dynamic performers in America in the 1920s, and her tour earnings reflected that popularity. ... was a true … Why trust us? Per Rolling Stone, Ma is hailed as a queer icon for being so open about her attraction to both men and women in her songs, though she never publicly identified as bisexual. , ‘ Ma Rainey before ( or after ) watching with both pathos... 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